For the past year or so, webmasters have been receiving a great deal of messages from Google about unnatural links pointing to their sites. You may know exactly which links Google doesn't like, but there's also a good chance you may not.
As we've seen, a lot of people have gone on link removal request rampages, greatly overreacting, and seeking the takedown of legitimate links out of fear that Google might not like them.
In the latest Webmaster Help video, Google's Matt Cutts discusses how to figure out which links to get removed. The video is a response to this user-submitted question:
Google Webmaster Tools says I have "unnatural links," but gives little help as to which specific links are bad. Since I have never purchased links, I don't know which ones to have removed, and I'm scared of removing good ones, which will hurt my traffic. Suggestions?
"We've tried to become more transparent, and when we were saying, 'Links were affecting the reputation of an entire site,' we would tell people about that," says Cutts. "And more recently we've been telling people, and opening up and saying, 'Hey, we still like your site. Your site, overall, might be good, but maybe there's some individual links to your site that we don't trust.' Now, the problem is that we weren't, at that time, giving specific examples. So one feature that we rolled out is the ability to sort by recent, discovery of links, so you can actually get the date of when we discovered a link. So if you sort that way, you can look for the recent links. But a feature that we are working on - we are in the process or rolling out - is that we will actually - we will basically give you examples."
"So it's a...you know, as we're building the incident whenever a webmaster analyst or something like that is saying, 'Okay, these are links not to trust,' they'll include an example link," continues Cutts. "You might get one, you might get two, you might get three, depending, but basically it will give you an idea of the sorts of links that we are no longer trusting. Now, it's not exhaustive. It's not comprehensive, but it should give you a flavor, you know. Is it a bunch of widget links? Were you doing a bunch of keyword-rich anchor text in article bank or article marketing type stuff? Maybe you weren't trying to do paid links, but maybe you hired an agency, and it turns out they were doing paid links, and you didn't realize it."
"I would look in the text of the messages," concludes. "Over time, we're working really hard on trying to include an example or two link, so that when you get that message, you have an idea of exactly where to look."